Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Learn and Serve Challenge

The White House supports serving in communities as a tangible way for all Americans to contribute the country’s recovery. One great way to get involved in service is by participating in the Learn and Serve Challenge, an initiative currently spotlighted in a video at the top of the White House service website. The Learn and Serve Challenge encourages service-learning in the United States, enabling “over one million students to make meaningful contributions to their community while building their academic and civic skills." By pairing community service with the academic curriculum, students learn inside and outside of the classroom how to work together to solve community problems. Students engaged in service become active citizens committed to improving their communities while learning skills that help them to achieve academic success.

Learn and Serve facilitates service-learning opportunities by supporting programs with grants, providing training and resources to teachers, administrators and parents, and disseminating research, curricula and program models (for free!). One innovative Learn and Serve program is Summer of Service, proposed by Innovations in Civic Participation and approved for funding by Congress in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act in 2009. During the summer months, Summer of Service programs engage young people in structured community service projects to meet human, educational, environmental and emergency community needs. Read more about Summer of Service on the ICP website.

Service-learning offers a powerful resource for shaping the next generation of American leaders. Tell us your service-learning stories in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

World to Politicians: Get to Work on Climate Change

Photo Credit: 350.org/Jim Dougherty

In the absence of government action, and in recognition of a critical threat to our planet, 350.org organized a worldwide party on October 10th, 2010 called Global Action Day. 350.org’s Global Action Day was not only a day of service devoted to cleaning up our planet and building our clean energy future, but also a powerful way to send an urgent message to world leaders that inaction on climate change policy cannot last any longer. Citizens of the world in 188 countries participated in over 7,000 events. Find out what events took place near you.

As part of this effort, on October 10th, ‘Work Parties’ from around the world led by example, installing photovoltaic panels, weatherizing homes and schools, planting trees, cleaning up parks, and finally calling politicians to let them know that they are getting to work on climate change and asking why the politicians aren’t. One politician not remaining idle on climate change is Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who performed the installation of solar panels on the roof of his presidential house himself. President Nasheed said “We don't have the luxury of time to sit and wait for the rest of the world to act. We are getting to work to start the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.”

Photo Credit: 350.org/Cynthia Ong

The He Xanh (Vietnam Green Generation Network), a youth organization in Vietnam, organized over 20 events throughout Vietnam with over 1,500 young participants. In Ha Noi and Ha Tinh organizers raised awareness for the planet through the promotion of the environmental and health benefits of vegetarianism. Many other organizations and clubs held bike rides and marathons to promote awareness for climate change issues. Young Green Generation Network organizers also implemented activities to raise awareness for the harmful effects plastic bags are having on the planet; which account for a significant percent of debris washing up onto shores, polluting oceans, harming wildlife, and toxins contaminating soil and waterways.

The geographical diversity and participation level among the many participants of the Global Action Day, from Vietnam and Afghanistan to Maryland and South Africa, gave weight to the powerful message for action sent to the world’s political leaders. Some world leaders were involved in the day’s activities themselves, while many more praised the Global Action Day event. United Nations Climate Chief Christina Figuerers said, “When citizens are inspired to take action, it is easier for governments to initiate real climate change action.” We must be the force behind the fight to save the planet. As UN Climate Chief Figuerers suggested, how can world leaders remain idle while their citizens take up actions to address climate change?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Keep Expanding National Service

Injustice—according to Alan Khazei, founder of City Year and author of Big Citizenship, those who partake in national service come away with an acute sense of it. These same people become Khazei’s ‘Big Citizens,’ a term which he uses to describe “anyone who is willing to dedicate themselves to a cause higher than self interest.” The citizen is the central focus of Khazei’s work and he believes harnessing the power of the citizens to affect change should be high on our government’s priorities list.

In an age where mere mention of expansion of government programs leads to media firestorms about the size of government, how can the federal government afford to fund programs which pay volunteer work? Khazei makes the convincing argument that America cannot afford to do otherwise.

Every major progressive movement has succeeded on the backs of ordinary citizens committed to a higher cause. Khazei cites the practical reasons for a strong national service policy:

· Unemployment levels remain high in the recession economy and the young adult demographic has proportionally been hurt the most—service programs can provide paying jobs at a low cost while developing better citizens and meeting critical community needs

· Demand for service opportunities has reached unprecedented levels in recent years, with the number of applicants to AmeriCorps far exceeding available openings.

· Need for service is indisputably widespread, as 14.3% of Americans now live in poverty

In a sector where organizational growth becomes stunted by lack of intermediate and high level financing, Khazei believes the government must play a critical role in finding successful local models and scaling them up to the national level. Though critics worry about government funds displacing donations from the private sector, Khazei’s experience has been just the opposite. Government spending spurs more private investment—for City Year, each public dollar has been more than matched by a private one. And for each $1 spent on national service, there is a $4 return to community benefits and improvements.

Expanding service programs can afford conscientious citizens who want to act an opportunity to make concrete contributions to their communities. With poverty and income inequality rates reaching alarming levels, now is the time to commit to a generation of leaders in civic engagement.

To see how AmeriCorps programs across the country are addressing needs such as poverty reduction, see ICP's recent publication Transforming Communities through Service: A Collection of 52 of the Most Innovative AmeriCorps State Programs in the US.


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